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Full text of "[untitled] The American Historical Review, (1899-12-01), pages 371-374"

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Rhodes: History of the United States 371 

validate his argument and to destroy some of the historical proofs upon 
which he bases his conclusion, it must be said that he has presented as 
strong a plea as can well be compressed into the allotted space. He 
seeks by abundance of historical evidence to demonstrate that the states 
were separate sovereignties when the Constitution was adopted, and that 
they adopted it as states. The result was the establishment of a Staaten- 
bund and not a Bundesstaat. In spite of this conclusion he seems to 
hold that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and binding 
upon the states. 

In conclusion it may be said that it is a very difficult task to appraise 
the work in general terms. There are a few serious blunders, there is 
a tendency to theorize when a clear statement of well established principles 
is desirable, and there is occasional evidence of a bias which seems to 
militate against the trustworthiness of some of his conclusions. But 
withal the matter is forcibly handled, and no small portion is written 
with exceptional clearness and strength. On the whole, one is left 
with a feeling of disappointment that the author could not have fin- 
ished his undertaking, made his final corrections and published the work 
himself. 

Andrew C. McLaughlin. 

History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850. By 
James Ford Rhodes. Vol. IV., 1 862-1 864. (New York and 
London: Harper and Brothers. 1899. Pp. xiii, 559). 

Mr. Rhodes has now attained that agreeable position in which a new 
volume of his history is distinctly an "event." The position has its 
responsibilities ; but the present volume offers abundant evidence that the 
author is quite capable of sustaining them. In guiding us through the 
central heat of the Civil War he never loses the clearness of head and the 
calmness of spirit with which he brought us up to the conflagration. At 
times, it may be, his enthusiasm for his bahnbrechende task leads him to 
attempt too much, and in trying to call our attention to the countless 
minor plays of light and shadow he diverts us from the larger outlines of 
the scene. But this tendency, if it exists at all, is venial ; it might 
count for something in a judgment of the work as "mere literature," 
but can hardly have validity from the standpoint of history. 

On the military side the present volume carries the narrative in the 
East from the siege of Yorktown by McClellan to the siege of Petersburg 
by Grant, and in the West from Bragg' s invasion of Kentucky to Sher- 
man's capture of Atlanta. Mr. Rhodes's handling of the military his- 
tory will serve as an admirable corrective to certain ideas that have 
gained a good deal of currency in recent years. Outside of the purely 
technical works on the war there has been a tendency to lay down sum- 
marily that McClellan and Buell were hopelessly incapable, if not abso- 
lutely imbecile ; that Grant outclassed Lee in Virginia as distinctly as he 
did the Confederate generals who opposed him in the West ; and that 



372 Reviews of Books 

above all it was through a sort of baptism of military genius vouchsafed 
by Providence to Lincoln himself that the ultimate outcome of the 
struggle was decided. Mr. Rhodes, while intimating — over modestly, I 
think — that his judgment as a " layman " is not to be too seriously con- 
sidered, nevertheless, most conclusively punctures these rather silly 
notions. He gives McClellan and Buell all the credit that is due them, 
even suggesting a very high place among commanders for the latter ; he 
brings into very clear relief the disastrous incidents and effects of Grant's 
campaign of attrition against Lee ; and by a cold-blooded exposition of 
some of the President's more preposterous blunders, he leaves it beyond 
controversy that Mr. Lincoln's military genius was at least of a distinctly 
intermittent type. 

On the purely civil side, also, the character and ability of President 
Lincoln are put by this volume in a light far more faithful, if consider- 
ably less nattering, than that in which they have been placed by his pro- 
fessional biographers. Mr. Rhodes does not seem to believe that a high 
appreciation of the shrewdness, sagacity and practical insight of Lincoln 
necessarily implies the ascription to him of saintliness and infallibility. 
The halo, which, placed upon his head at his assassination, was left there 
by a sort of literary convention, is removed, though not irreverently, by 
Mr. Rhodes. This is well. We waited a century for the " real George 
Washington, ' ' and perhaps we have not yet achieved the real Benjamin 
Franklin ; but in proportion to the more rapid movement of things in 
general it is entirely proper that the real Abraham Lincoln should begin 
to be revealed a generation after his death. Mr. Rhodes allows us to 
see that Mr. Lincoln was a ' ' practical politician " in a sense which at 
the present day chills the blood of reformers. He appointed men to 
civil office with a view, not to the good of the service, but to the se- 
curing of delegates to the national convention. That military offices 
were filled under the influence of like motives, is indisputable, and must 
be considered in assigning the responsibility for much useless slaughter. 
The shadier side of Lincoln's more personal characteristics is also treated 
frankly by Mr. Rhodes, and in a note on page 518 the nature of the 
stories which figured so largely in the President's conversation is denoted 
by a term which for exactness stands at the widest remove from the peri- 
phrastic euphemisms generally employed. Mr. Rhodes further con- 
tributes to the accuracy of history by noting some of the contemporary 
pictures of Lincoln drawn both by his supporters and by his adversaries. 
In neither is the halo of later days conspicuous. 

The exercise by the administration of its war power in the North by 
the arbitrary arrest and punishment of private citizens, forms the subject 
of some of the most striking portions of this volume. Upon the policy 
of the government in this respect Mr. Rhodes visits almost unqualified 
condemnation. He rightly judges that the tame submission of the North 
to the abuses of this system was largely due to the general confidence 
in the personal rectitude of President Lincoln. The "copperhead" is 
set by Mr. Rhodes in a rather less repulsive light than is customary- 



Rhodes: History of the United States 373 

That he was sinned against as well as sinning is distinctly indicated ; and 
the fact that his grievances against the administration received the 
sympathy and support of such men as Robert C. Winthrop and Benjamin 
R. Curtis, is properly presented as evidence that he was not altogether 
diabolical. For Vallandigham, whom fate and General Burnside raised 
to the doubtful eminence of copperhead-in-chief, Mr. Rhodes has sym- 
pathy but no admiration. The personality of the Ohio politician seems 
to have been unattractive, and it is by no means impossible that Mr. Lin- 
coln took this fact into account in dealing with the case. 

On this whole question of military supersession of the ordinary juris- 
diction over civil rights, it is to be said that, regardless of all question of 
justice or of ultimate expediency, the will of the military commander will 
always, in fact, prevail in time of civil war. The comparison which Mr. 
Rhodes makes with the practice in England during the war with France 
is hardly to the point ; the proceedings of Cromwell would be the paral- 
lel case. The dictum of the Supreme Court in the Milligan case is worthy 
of all the commendation which Mr. Rhodes bestows upon it. But the 
decision, it is to be noticed, was not rendered till after the close of hos- 
tilities, and never would have been rendered in that form during actual 
conflict ; and the criterion of peace set up by the court, namely, that 
the courts be open and unobstructed, is practically impossible. Whether 
the courts are open and unobstructed, is a question of fact, which must be 
answered by some human authority. Practically the opinion of the military 
commander will always be conclusive on this point as against that of any 
judicial organ. In Vallandigham's time it was evidently the opinion of 
General Burnside and of his military superior the President, that in view of 
existing conditions the courts were not "unobstructed." To allow to 
the court itself the final judgment as to when it is open and unobstructed, 
would be to clothe the judiciary with a distinctly political function. 

It would be impossible to call attention in this review to a tithe of the 
points at which Mr. Rhodes throws valuable light upon the period which 
he covers. His account of the state and variations of English and other 
foreign opinion during the critical period of the war is exceedingly well 
done. The motives of the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as its 
effects, are also excellently put. On the use of the negroes as soldiers, 
however, the historian is rather inadequate. Instead of the slight para- 
graph on Fort Wagner and Col. Shaw, which was really as local a Bos- 
tonian incident in 1863 as the commemoration of it was in 1897, the 
general aspects of negro enlistment might have been profitably consid- 
ered. Especially would it have been worth Mr. Rhodes' s while to give 
us the pros and cons of the question as to whether the eulogies on the 
fighting qualities of the blacks and the enthusiasm for their admission to 
the army had any motive in a shrewd Yankee business estimate of their 
utility for filling up state quotas without drawing on state citizens. 

The last point to which reference can be made is Mr. Rhodes's very 
interesting theory in explanation of General Grant's mysterious conduct 
respecting Generals Butler and Smith before Petersburg in the summer of 



374 Reviews of Books 

1864. After putting himself on record as strongly desiring to get rid of 
Butler and put Smith in his place, Grant suddenly suspended the order, 
already issued, depriving Butler of command, and at the same time re- 
moved Smith. Mr. Rhodes conjectures that it was all due to "some 
hold ' ' which Butler had secured on Grant, which was employed in so 
unscrupulous a manner as to overawe the latter. 

" Perhaps he joined together, in a Mephistophelian manner, the 
failure of the campaign, the popular horror at the waste of blood, seem- 
ingly to no purpose, and the general's relapse from his rule of total 
abstinence ; perhaps he told Grant that as a Confederate corps under 
Early was now threatening Washington, to the exasperation of the people 
of the North, the commander of the Union armies needed a friend who 
had a powerful control of public sentiment, and that he was not so secure 
of his position that he could afford to refuse the proffered aid of Butler, 
which was his for an equivalent " (pp. 495-496). 

The interest of this explanation is enhanced by the fact that it might 
suggest a clue to the unravelling of another mystery later in Grant's 
career. In connection with the effort of President Johnson to get rid 
of Secretary Stanton, just before the impeachment, General Grant took 
a step which thwarted the President's plan. Grant's action was at once 
declared by Johnson to involve a flat violation of a pledge deliberately 
given by the general. That such a pledge had been given was asserted 
in the most explicit terms by five members of the cabinet — men whose 
word was worthy of absolute confidence. But Grant, on the other 
hand, met the accusation of bad faith with a simple and unqualified de- 
nial that he had ever made the promise in question. The issue of 
veracity stands complete, and to this day undetermined, with odds of six 
to one against Grant. At the time of this remarkable controversy 
Butler was the leader in fact of the Republicans in Congress, soon to be- 
come, at the death of Thaddeus Stevens, the leader in name as well. 
Among the adversaries of President Johnson he was easily the fiercest. 
In the party at large he was naturally very influential. The availability 
of Grant as a candidate for the presidency in 1868 was under active dis- 
cussion. Can it be that Butler played Mephistopheles again, and as in 
1864 moulded the will of his victim, though now rather through the 
promise of a splendid gain than through the threat of a frightful loss ? 
It is to be hoped that when Mr. Rhodes reaches the proper point in his 
narrative he will throw all possible light on this strange incident. 

Wm. A. Dunning. 

The Civil War on the Border. A Narrative of Military Operations 
in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory, during 
the years 1863-65, based upon Official Reports and Observations 
of the Author. By Wiley Britton, late of the War Depart- 
ment. Vol. II. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1899. 
Pp. xxiii, 546). 

Among the Missourians who enlisted in Kansas regiments during the